“Fly to New York for 18 hours just to run? Is this what they call a midlife crisis?” my 19-year-old son asked incredulously after I made an important announcement over dinner.
That was sometime in March this year, just hours after I received an e-mail notification that I had secured a guaranteed slot in this year’s New York City Marathon (NYCM).
Dubbed the world’s largest and most iconic marathon (and also one of the six World Marathon Majors, which include the Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London and Tokyo Marathons), getting into the NYCM is akin to hitting a jackpot. And indeed, entering the race rested on the luck of the draw for mere mortals like me.
It was in 2012 when, for the first time, I put in my name for the NYCM lottery, and wasn’t picked. (It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as organizers had to cancel the 2012 NYCM due to Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc across the state of New York).
I decided to give it another try last January, primarily to get over that first rejection and also as part of my fitness goal to do at least one full marathon a year. What ensued was an agonizing wait over a couple of months for the results.
The sheer number of applicants vying for a spot every year makes the NYCM a highly coveted race. And when you get in, the entry fee will set you back several hundreds of dollars, not to mention the airfare, hotel and other expenses.
In other words, it’s a rather costly affair to get 42 kilometers’ worth of what many people might consider grueling physical punishment.
Did I have second thoughts about going? No way, Jose, even if it meant missing a work-related event scheduled much earlier, or defying my well-meaning family who thought a mishap might befall me—hypothermia, busted knee, a broken hip or worse, Ebola.
My family’s anxiety grew even more palpable when the first case of the virus in New York was reported just a week before the race. (As it turns out, the NY patient was given the all-clear a couple of weeks after the news broke.)
Their concern was well-placed, but not enough to hold me back. It did scare me a little, but my determination to run the mother of all marathons was larger than my fear of the unknown and unfounded.
Training and trepidation
After months of training and some trepidation, I finally embarked on my very first New York Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 2. I was among 50,530 runners from 130 countries that toured the city’s five boroughs: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. My race strategy was simple: soak in the atmosphere, have fun and finish the race and come back home to my family in one piece.
As added motivation, I promised myself a shopping spree if I finished under five hours! That got me super stoked! So at the starting line at Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, I set off with a spring in my step as soon as the cannon blasted and Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blared from what I could only presume were giant speakers.
Little did I know that the most difficult part of the course—the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge—was just a short distance away. It wasn’t the long, arduous incline that nearly stopped me in my tracks, but the gale-force wind that greeted us as we crossed the bridge. It was freezing cold up there and everywhere; my four layers of thermal and compression clothing and wool gloves felt barely enough to insulate me.
Barreling along at about 70-80 kph speed, the gusts whipped most runners sideways, including myself! My cap was blown away, and so were other runners’ beanies, bottles and shades! The simple task of putting one foot in front of the other proved to be such a major effort. I mustered all the energy I had on reserve, and ran as fast as I could during what seemed like an eternity over that bridge.
As we entered the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, the crosswinds subsided and the 4-degree Celsius temperature became more bearable. But what got me fully warmed up was not the sun, but New York’s “human touch.”
Throughout the course of the race, it was the enthusiastic support of New Yorkers which made the 26.2-mile (42-km) challenge worth the pain. They were simply amazing, and came out in full force and cheered runners with heartfelt gusto.
Even in the cold and the wind, thousands of spectators (estimated number: 2 million) came out—from moms with their young children in tow to grandparents and churchgoers—with their home-baked goodies, bananas, candies and energy drinks, and held them out to runners. They high-fived, applauded and called out runners’ names. It appeared as though they really prepared for this special day too.
While pounding the pavement, I observed that each borough seemed to have turned the race into a “competition” with their unique offering of “live” entertainment, from pop to salsa and reggae bands. I must have heard all genres of music in just a couple of hours. I also witnessed how beautifully diverse each of the five boroughs were. All these kept me captivated and motivated. In fact, I was so proud that I was able to run continuously, and only made cursory stops at a few water stations.
I was indeed in the best shape and state possible throughout the run. No hitting the proverbial wall. No cramps. No side stitches. Of course, I also attributed it to a sensible training program and regular running sessions with my group (thanks, Alabang Sunday Runners!) but I must say the electrifying, surreal atmosphere and the boisterous and raucous cheering from New Yorkers lining the streets did make a difference.
I was simply in awe of New Yorkers that day. Their homemade signs with words of encouragement as well as funny messages along the way made me smile and oblivious to my exhaustion and shivering, sore body. Here are some gems:
“Chuck Norris Never Ran A Marathon”
“Hurry Mom We’re Hungry”
“You look like a Kenyan to me”
“This seems like an awful lot of work for a free banana”
“You’ve got great stamina. Call me”
“Toenails are for sissies”
“Pain is temporary. Internet race results last forever”
“You’re running better than our government!”
“I thought you said 2.62!”
As I sprinted my way into Central Park for the home stretch, I was even more overwhelmed in the most wonderful sense of the word. And as I inched closer to the finish line, I did a double take when I saw my time in the giant digital clock. It was something I never could have expected or fathomed. I started to well up. Four hours and 50 minutes was definitely slow by elite standards, but way faster than my last marathon. It’s a personal best.
I did it! With arms raised aloft, I looked up to the sky and thanked God for keeping me safe and sane in this crazy pursuit called the New York City Marathon.
They say running a marathon is pretty much like childbirth. It hurts like hell and you will swear to yourself to never do it again. Then months later, you’ll change your mind and say, “Well, maybe another one won’t hurt.”
It’s only been a few weeks since New York, and I keep saying to myself, family and friends that I’d do it again in a heartbeat. (It’s interesting to note that this year’s top female finishers
at the New York Marathon were all mothers.) Maybe before I turn 50.
Just like a line in Frank Sinatra’s song: “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…” If I could finish the race in New York, I could very well complete other marathons. Now, the other five World Marathons are on my bucket list, too, and I’m sure my family will support me in my next marathon quest.
Shortly after the race, my son was the first to congratulate me. I ask him, “Did you know the toughest guy in the world never ran a marathon?” And he goes, “Who? Chuck Norris? You’re the best, Mom. I’m so proud of you!”
These 40-something marathon moms have all conquered New York
They may call themselves mere mortals, but these 40-something moms run marathons and have already conquered the New York City Marathon, the world’s largest and arguably, the greatest.
44, mother of two children ages 19 and 13
“I consider the New York City Marathon my most memorable marathon from among the four that I have done so far. The experience was definitely worth the months of training, the long-haul flight and the dent on my savings! I may have struck it off my bucket list, but I enjoyed it so much that I would do it again in a heartbeat.
“I’m a foodie and wine lover, so I turn to running to keep my weight in check and stay healthy. Running is also both cathartic and liberating. When you run, you are getting rid of the body’s toxins; it helps you destress, which then clears your mind and allows it to generate great ideas and make rational decisions. Running has also introduced me to so many other like-minded people.
“I love the thrill of the challenge that a marathon presents. Having a goal, setting performance targets inspire me. I like the focus, the determination and the will that drives me to achieve these targets. I consider finishing every marathon a personal victory, which empowers me and boosts my confidence to do just about anything.”
48, mother of four, ages 23, 21, 16 and 15
“I ran the New York City Marathon to raise funds for a nonprofit organization, and my additional incentive to finish was the fact that I had received pledges from family and friends. I had received so many pledges that I couldn’t stop no matter what. I was also inspired by the fact that my son and my best friends were all at the finish line waiting with Shake Shack Burgers and chocolate milkshakes. The NYC Marathon will always be memorable for me because it’s my first marathon, and my husband and I crossed the finish line together holding hands!
“The feeling of completing a marathon is one of the best in the world. After completing my first, I felt that I could achieve anything. My kids told me that their friends were inspired to run a marathon, too, considering I had completed a few at my age.”
45, mother of five, ages 24, 22, 21, 14 and 13
“New York is my favorite city. So when I got the slot to run this year’s Marathon, I was really thrilled! During the race, there was so much energy at every kilometer from the runners and the cheering crowd, it made me run faster, so much so that I finished 5:04, way better than I expected. No pain anywhere (which was strange to me) and a giddy feeling that prevented me from freezing over after I crossed the finish line.
“A marathon is so much more than running. It’s really a test of patience, perseverance, mental discipline and a challenge not just to finish the race but also to adopt a healthy lifestyle along the way. The first three, we moms are very familiar with. But most of the time, we sacrifice so much of our own time and energy for our kids, our family and our work, that we have little left for ourselves.”
46, mother of five, ages 29, 23, 21, 20 and 6
“My main motivation for participating was to relish the whole New York City Marathon experience, to be in the moment. I carried a camera; I stopped to take pictures of the people and the sights; I spoke to people and I high-fived the kids lined up to cheer us on and give candies. The race is a great way to see all five boroughs of New York and to experience New Yorkers’ friendliness, since they are not known for being so! Among my memories: funny signs, people calling out your name, street scenes, inspiring people (a blind runner being led by a guide, a daughter running with her 80-year-old father, cancer survivors, people running in memory of a lost loved one or in support of a cause). I saw the best of the human spirit that day. Everyone should be able to witness that in one form or another, marathon or not.
“I enjoy running, it’s a meditative activity and actually relaxes me. When I joined a regular running group, I made new friends and that added to my motivation to run marathons.”
The New York City Marathon began in 1970 with just 127 participants running four laps around Central Park. Last November, it became the largest marathon in history with 50,564 finishers.